By Jess Lynk
The Washington Center has put forth a variety of speakers from differing backgrounds, perspectives and fields.
Today one of those speakers was Greg Carr, a distinguished professor at Howard University. Our conversation largely focused on race, but there was something he said that stuck with me all day.
“America’s history is morally unresolved,” Carr said.
When people discuss America’s history, the common narrative that emerges is that our founding fathers are trail blazers. They did blaze the trail, literally. A lot of people forget that much of our nation’s past is surrounded by hatred and violence. But as the narrative of the U.S. continues, that past is erased.
This concept stuck out to me, especially after we went on a monument tour on Monday. I stood at these huge monuments honoring heroes in our American society. I looked up at Lincoln Memorial, which honored a great president, but he also was flawed.
In America, we have this tendency to think highly of ourselves and diminish the violent path that our country has. We think of our past as great, and erase the history of slavery from textbooks.
We create monuments for leaders who may have had a negative impact on our country. We are forced to wrestle with the idea that maybe America is not so great after all.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing by any means, considering no human has ever achieved perfection.
But the trouble comes when we try to erase our past. I understand why on the side of the Lincoln Memorial it doesn’t say “closet racist.” But when talking about Lincoln in history museums and textbooks, he is regarded as one of the best, but even Lincoln had flaws. We tend to forget that our country has had a slew of issues.
I’m not saying Lincoln didn’t deserve a monument, by any means, either. I’m saying that there is a lot we forget.
I stood at the Martin Luther King Jr. monument and realized just how morally unresolved our country still is. But there is always still hope. At this beautiful monument, a quote lies behind him saying “Out of the mountain of despair. A stone of hope.” This quote exemplifies that sentiment. Our country is and continues to be a mountain of despair. But there are always stones of hope that come from our government.
This doesn’t mean all Americans are evil. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate our achievements. This means that America has baggage, like any human being. And in order to shed that baggage, we need to admit we have it.
Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and preached that he had a dream. That dream has partly been realized, but not all of it has.
America still has a long way to go to resolve our history’s past. But we need to first recognize it as just that: morally unresolved.